Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Let 'em play

When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom,
Climbed what I could climb upon
And I don't know how I survived,
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.

Dar Williams, "When I Was a Boy"

At the most recent parents' conference, we were told that Youngest Daughter wanted to be called "Peter" by her teachers and classmates. Ah, we explained, well, see, she's been into Spider Man. So she's pretending to be Peter Parker. Naturally. The teacher said, with a little smile, well, she has a very good imagination. But it's a little distracting.

I see. It's not that I mind the idea of school, but do they have to be so, well, schoolish about it? In kindergarten, no less. Once I fought down the urge to smack her, I wanted to say to her, seriously? I mean, she's five. She still believes in the Easter Bunny. To her, imagining is as important as adding and subtracting(which she can do) and learning her sight words. I know she's young for kindergarten, the youngest in her class, in fact. It's an all day kindergarten too, I'd like to point out. I remember my kindergarten. I think it lasted long enough for my mother to make the beds and have coffee with the neighbor moms. We spent most of the time, if memory serves, a.playing b. using paste and c. learning a few things. We had a snack, laid our heads on the table for a few minutes rest, heard a story and went home. Somehow with this backward system we all managed to grow up and become reasonably responsible adults.

When I look around my daughter's classroom, I notice that most kids are indeed listening (mostly) and sitting criss-cross-applesauce still and listening (mostly). Because I think most of them have been in daycare and know the drill. And let me be clear:I have nothing against daycare, all-day kindergarten, organized sports, enrichment programs, after-school activities, Pop Warner, pottery classes, et al. It's just that there's so MUCH of it. I feel like our kids are falling into two groups: the docile and the non-docile. So we give the non-docile kids a diagnosis and some pills and there you go.

I'm not exaggerating. When Eldest Daughter was in second grade, in a school system I won't name (rhymes with "Pillsborough"), she was found to have a learning disability. Before they would evaluate her for extra help, they wanted me to put her on Ritalin. But, I said, I spoke with her doctor and she doesn't have ADHD. Well, said the school nurse, some doctors work with us.

Maybe I'm too sensitive about the whole thing. Teachers gotta teach, kids gotta behave. But it's the sinking feeling that if yours isn't the docile little lamb, well then, maybe there's something wrong with them. But I refuse to believe that my spunky, spirited, FIERCE child needs a label, let alone a diagnostic code. For inspiration I found Lenore Skenazy's website and book called Free Range Kids (freerangekids.wordpress.com). It celebrates a time when your mom would kick you out of the house for the day and call you back in when it was dinner time. And if you came home covered in dirt she might scream a bit, but then she'd just throw you in the tub and scrub you within an inch of your life. Nowadays they bring in the decontamination unit and a gallon of Purell.

Also, I have in my possession, a great book called Raising Your Spirited Child:a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, energetic, by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Seriously, my little one is intense. And sweet, smart, funny, contrary, and exasperating. I wonder if I could handle a class full of kids like her. Sometimes I wonder why she can't be an "easy" child. I think back with fondness for all the "easy" things her sister did, forgetting that she had her exasperating moments, as well. Then I remind myself that Well Behaved
Girls Rarely Make History.

Nobody said it was going to be easy.